Not long ago, I had the fortune of reading, The Little Light by Dipa Sanatani. The book is one of a kind. Its content ranges from mythology to fantasy and astronomy to folklore. Like many other mythology-based books I have read so far, I found an attachment of this book with the others. There is something about folklores and legends. They demand attention.
As an ardent reader, I have always wondered how a myth from one culture connects with one from a totally different one. Perhaps, it may be because each myth and legend has passed down mouth to mouth for several generations, making them universal. Mythologies trump authorship. They are not limited to a particular culture or era. Myths encapsulate the unspoken truth of society and culture.
The more attention you give, the more you see that there exists a connection between all the stories you have read so far, creating the world of unknown and untouched. When, you indulge yourself in reading such stories, you cannot help but marvel at how each myth connects to the others.
Every time I close any book that had some elements of mythology I think about how each culture – ranging from classical Greece, Egypt, India or China – has its own folklore. Each speaks highly of its history and the place, having a similar storyline, characters, or incidents. The similarities, perhaps, could not have happened on its own.
When I met the beautiful Venus in Sanatani’s book, I could not help but wonder how similar she was to the Greek Goddess of beauty, Aphrodite. Furthermore, I saw Ares in Mars, Hermes in Mercury, Hindu Goddess Saraswati in Jupiter and warrior Goddess Artemis in Diana. I believe that the uncanny similarities between different narratives could not have been a mere coincidence.
In ‘The Little Light’, Sanatani beautifully explains the journey of an innocent human soul into the world, which was filled with a series of learning stages about life, death and everything in between. The story talks about deeper beliefs of reincarnation and free-will. Each myth irrespective of the origin, discusses similar elements – reflection over birth, death, the afterlife.
Maybe this is why, mythology in general, is interpretative and can be interpreted differently from one individual to the other, giving rise to different legends at different places. So, if in one culture a hero is worshipped, in the other, they may be considered as the anti-hero.
In Sanatani’s book, Venus takes the role of an anti-hero in the story. Despite being loved, worshipped and revered everywhere else for her beauty and gifts, there were people who did not particularly like her, including the Little Light, which is why she rejects Venus’s blessings. The value of interpretation of the myth may not be equivalent to the value of the legend itself.
I have had many friends over the years who have repeatedly pointed out to my naivety, that mythologies are just made-up stories with no meaning whatsoever. But does it matter, whether or not they are true? It does not necessarily have to be true in order for you to believe in them. You need not believe in them at all!
It all boils down to how they have influenced the civilizations as we know today. There is one line from ‘The Little light,’ among many, resonated well with me in this context. Sanatani writes,
“It would do you some good to appreciate the reality beyond what we can see and perceive. And just because you cannot perceive something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
That is why I appreciate mythologies and still cling on to them for wisdom. They do not talk only about the good parts of life and a happy ending. Instead, they focus on the true nature of life. They have a twisted narrative and require an in-depth understanding of the story because each is layered with warnings and curses, laments and celebrations, instructions and taboos, each having its own purpose to serve.
At the end of it all, even if each piece of myth talks about supernatural creatures including the Gods themselves, they bear remarkable similarities to that of human nature.
In ‘The Little Light,’ the constant bickering between the planetary beings – despite having so much of power in their hands – reminded me of the families we have as humans. At the end of the day, no matter how many grudges we hold against the people whom we call our own, we always have their back – despite our personal disputes.
Mythology has played a huge influence in shaping our lives, as we live today. And it has been doing so, for ages. At the root of it all, each myth is what connects us, in a shared story – making us a part of the bigger picture.
Which mythological or legendary character enchants you the most? What about that story is both universal to human nature as well as unique to a particular culture?
About the Author
Fareeha Arshad is a forager of meaning, a reader by passion, a writer by choice, and a scientist by vocation. The Arab born, confused Desi lives on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia with her parents and siblings, where she spends most of her time studying, teaching, writing or cooking.